Bentzman's Suburban Soliloquy
~FOLIE À DEUX~
In Greek mythology there is a story of Zeus and
incognito, seeking hospitality and finally finding it
with a humble, elderly couple, Baucis and her husband
Philemon. They hosted Zeus and Hermes with the
kindness that was due guests in classical Greece.
Appreciative of their kindness, the gods revealed
themselves and offered the couple their any wish. The
couple discussed it and with shrewd political sense
told Zeus they wished to serve in his sacred shrine.
But the subject of this essay concerns
the rest of their wish. Philemon and Baucis, being
happy in life and in love, understood the consequence
of their tender commitment, the grief of the one who
has to outlive the other. So this ancient Greek
couple asked to die within an hour of each other.
When the time came, they were metamorphosed, one into
an oak and the other a linden, but entwined and
growing from a single trunk.
Another example of these feelings can be found in the
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the
University of Pennsylvania. In their collection is a
pair of human skeletons that are exhibited under
glass in exactly the manner in which they had been
buried. One is a male who has evidently been killed.
Next to him lies a female skeleton, her bones
embracing his. The female appears to have been buried
alive. The relationship of the two is unknown, but
they are popularly called The Lovers.
The capacity for endearment is not new.
This is the tragic side of being in a loving
relationship, the foreknowledge that one partner is
bound to outlive the other, and it is rarely
otherwise. I can understand someone forgoing this
grief and avoiding commitment. However, at a time
when it seems to be unusual, I find myself in an
exceedingly happy, extremely devoted, and profoundly
affectionate marriage. Because we know that the time
together is precious and limited, our romance has
become the enduring priority. The rewards of every
other pleasure are secondary - even success as a
writer holds less value to me because I have already
received the unsurpassable reward.
We met in Boston through a mutual friend. My friend
and I drove to her place after midnight and he woke
her from a sound sleep. They were dating at the time.
The three of us then drove to the end of Cape Cod to
watch the sun rise from the ocean, a cold Autumn day
in 1982. It was while waiting in the car for the sun,
trying to stay warm, that my friend fell asleep in
the back. She and I, however, could not sleep,
charged with a shared enthusiasm for mutually
intriguing topics of conversation. We spoke of
our common passion for life and fear of death. This
initially united us in a close friendship. That we
continue to enjoy conversation is a mainstay to our
relationship, preferring each other's company to all
else. There is never enough time together.
That morning on Cape Cod the sun came up. My friend
tried to stand next to his sweetheart on the beach,
but she danced away from him. She wanted the
day to begin with finding her alone, having private
thoughts. This was the first indication I had that
theirs was not a successful relationship, soon to
So here, then, are we, snuggling together in our
"cardboard" home, in an anonymous array of
suburban houses. Ms Keogh and I were married in March
of 1987; I did not take her name when we married.
Sometimes I will awake and observe her sleeping
alongside me in bed and realize this is still the
best part of life. If I think how all this will
someday be gone, I cannot then forsake the moment.
Like Goethe's Faust, I would ask the moment to stand
still. It doesn't matter that I'm stuck in suburbia,
for I am also stuck in happiness.
For a little while someone might find this piece of
text, an essay written by someone, somewhere, but
eventually even the language it is written in will be
forgotten. The species that reads this will become
extinct. Whether the universe collapses into itself
or expands into entropy, in any case all signs of us
ever having lived and loved shall be erased. I don't
mean to appear disappointed by the indifference of
the cosmos to my romance. I mean to emphasize that
the relationship is the most important thing in my
life; the rewards are immediate. It makes little
difference to me if I am a posthumous success as that
won't be a reward I can feel. And in the long run,
when the universe runs down and no significance is
left, I will have had happiness, while the author in
pursuit of immortality might not. So it doesn't
matter if I don't succeed as a writer. I have made my
decision; it is worth this happiness even if it is
not for ever. Should Ms Keogh awake and we embrace,
it is the best part of existence.